Sadia Kabeya column: There were a lot of nerves for Grand Slam decider

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A picture of Sadia Kabeya smiling in an England shirt next to the words 'Sadia Kabeya BBC Sport Columnist'

Saturday at Twickenham was nothing like any of us in the England team had experienced before.

Going to the stadium, there were huge crowds of people on the street and when we arrived there were so many people already there for an hour before kick-off to cheer us in.

When we sang the national anthem the whole crowd sang with us and cheered after. I let it all sink in at that moment- the occasion, the crowd and the sheer grand scheme of what I was experiencing. Then I got into game mode.

Less than six months ago, we played in front of another record crowd.

We lost the World Cup final to New Zealand at Eden Park and ever since then our sights have been set on getting the Grand Slam in the Six Nations.

The celebrations on Saturday night were definitely a different vibe to that night in Auckland.

Everybody could finally breathe with relief. To end such a successful tournament with a trophy was the cherry on top.

We had a family and friends function and Twickenham, then we all went to the pub down the road from our hotel and just saw where the night took us.

‘That is the most nervous I have been’

There were a lot of nerves around the whole camp with it being a record-breaking crowd and the Grand Slam decider.

I had never played against France before and I think that is the most nervous I have been for a game.

I did not start to get nervous before games until I played in my first World Cup in 2022. That was when there was a switch between me just playing rugby because I enjoy it to me potentially seeing a future in the sport.

Since the World Cup, there is a lot more pressure to consistently perform, but I enjoy that.

As soon as the whistle goes, nerves go out the window. Reflecting on past games, I think I must be someone who plays well under pressure.

It has not sunk in yet that I won player of the match on Saturday. I came off the field at 70 minutes and felt like I had been on the pitch for 100 years.

I just hoped I had done my best. When they put me up on the big screen to announce I was player of the match, I was very grateful but also very awkward knowing 58,000 people were watching me.

I had way more family and friends there than usual so it was great to make them proud and it was emotional seeing them all after.

One thing I loved about Saturday was the diverse crowd.

That is something the women’s game is great at. We have people of all genders, all sizes, all races and religions coming together to watch.

There is always such a good connection because they are bound through this one specific interest.

Being someone from a diverse background, I am passionate about and proud of having such diversity in our fan-base. Hopefully that keeps growing.

It is always nice to go round and see fans after the game. Any time I see a little black girl or someone who looks like me, it makes me feel so proud to be on that big stage, being that person they can see.

‘Middleton has changed our game’

Our head coach Simon Middleton and attack coach Scott Bemand are leaving us now the Six Nations is over and that gave us even more motivation to win.

Mids [Middleton] has changed our game so much. When Sarah Hunter, who retired at the start of this tournament, came into camp to do our shirt presentation before Saturday’s game she mentioned how he had been one of the driving forces in changing women’s rugby.

He has pushed us to become the best team in the world and that has spurred on other nations.

Personally, since I came into the England squad with him I have come on leaps and bounds with my rugby.

I only have positive things to say about him and hopefully he goes on to do even better things.

Scott Bemand has been with the team for a long time too and now the squad has so much talent across the whole backline.

Those two have been really pivotal in getting the Red Roses to where they are now – top of the world rankings and having successfully claimed a fifth successive Six Nations title.

There is a lot of excitement about who might be our next coach. It is a new era with a home World Cup on the horizon in 2025.

The squad is regenerating with a lot of new faces and having a new coach will make things even more exciting going into our next phase.

We are excited to get stuck in with them and see where they can take us.

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